Maybe the most fascinating aspect of the latest title run for the San Francisco Giants is how little production they received in the postseason from some of their highest-paid players:
Matt Cain, the team's top-paid player at $20.83 million this year, last pitched in early July and then underwent season-ending surgery on his elbow.
Tim Lincecum, No. 2 on the payroll at $17 million, was bumped from the rotation in September and relegated to a deep mop-up role in the playoffs; he pitched just 1.2 innings in the postseason.
Angel Pagan, making $10.25 million, missed the postseason after back surgery in September.
Marco Scutaro, the eighth-highest-paid player at $6.67 million, played just five games all season.
That's nearly $55 million of dead money that contributed nothing to the team in the playoffs. Only Pagan was of much value in the regular season, as Cain wasn't that good before shutting it down, while Lincecum had a 4.74 ERA and was valued at below replacement level.
To top it off, Buster Posey, the team's best player, hit .154 in the World Series and didn't have an extra-base hit the entire postseason; Giants starters not named Madison Bumgarner pitched a collective 16.1 innings in their five World Series starts; and the team went the final five games of the World Series without a home run.
Yet here they are, World Series champions for the third time in five seasons. Sure, it took a legendary performance from Bumgarner in Game 7, but it still doesn't add it up.
But that's the thing about the Giants through the years: a lot doesn't add up, except those shiny World Series rings.
Let's look back at the 2010 championship team. The team's highest-paid player that year was Barry Zito, who wasn't even on the playoff roster. Aaron Rowand was the team's second-highest-paid player and was primarily a bench player in the postseason after hitting .230 in the regular season. Edgar Renteria, the team's third-highest-paid player, hit three home runs in the regular season. He hit two in the World Series and won MVP honors.
In fact, looking at the starting lineup in the Game 5 finale, Renteria, Rowand, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and designated hitter Pat Burrell would each last just one more season in the majors. First baseman Aubrey Huff lasted two, in which he wasn't any good. Right fielder Andres Torres had a career year in 2010, hitting .268 with 16 home runs; over the next three years, he hit .232 with nine home runs. Cody Ross hit cleanup.
In 2012, there was more bad money. Lincecum was the team's second-highest-paid player at $18.25 million behind Zito, and after a bad season Lincecum pitched mostly out of the bullpen in the playoffs (although he did have a couple of important outings). Huff, the team's fifth-highest-paid player, was making $10 million and hit .192 during the season. Reliever Brian Wilson made $8.5 million and missed nearly the entire season after blowing out his elbow. Rowand made $13.6 million -- and didn't play in the majors at all. Sanchez made $6 million and missed the season with an injury. And then there was Melky Cabrera, who had a .346 batting average but was suspended in August for PEDs.
The Giants won a second title in three years anyway. Rowand, Huff, Wilson and Sanchez made a combined $38.1 million for contributing nothing to the team.
It's not exactly a blueprint for how to build a consistent winner, is it? One thing no general manager wants to do is give big money to poor performers or injured players. It's happened repeatedly to general manager Brian Sabean, yet he may end up as a Hall of Fame executive.
How do the Giants do it? Every year in the postseason, somebody steps up. In 2010, Cain allowed one unearned run in three starts. Lincecum, before his arm was drained of its power, had the monster 14-strikeout game against the Braves. Ross hit five home runs and knocked in 10 runs in 15 games. Renteria had the big World Series.
In 2014, Bumgarner had a postseason for the ages.
As always, the bullpen remains the team's secret weapon. Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez have been here since 2010. The position players have shuffled, the rotation has had different guys or different aces at different times. Those four have been a constant, however, and Affeldt's Game 7 performance -- his 22nd consecutive scoreless postseason appearance -- shouldn't go unnoticed, even if he was overshadowed by Bumgarner. Since 2010, the Giants' bullpen has gone 13-2 in the playoffs with a 2.42 ERA.
Asked before the World Series to explain the Giants' postseason success, manager Bruce Bochy stumbled for an answer. He didn't really have one. "This game isn't that easy," he said. But when they get to October, the Giants find a way.
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Are the Giants a dynasty? They're the first team to win three titles in five years since the 1996-2000 Yankees (who won four in five years), just the second since the 1970s A's, and the first National League team since the 1942-46 Cardinals. It's a remarkable achievement.
Are they a dynasty? "Being called a dynasty is kind of a perspective thing," Hunter Pence said before Game 1. "It's an opinion. It can never really be true."
Over these five seasons, the Giants own the seventh-best regular-season winning percentage in the majors:
Even if you include their amazing 34-14 record in the postseason since 2010, their overall winning percentage climbs to just fourth-best behind the Yankees, Cardinals and Braves and one percentage point ahead of the Tigers and Rays.
They were never the best team in the majors in the regular season during any of their title seasons, either:
2010: 92-70, fifth in majors, second in NL
2012: 94-68, tied for fourth in majors, tied for third in NL
2014: 88-74, tied for eighth in majors, tied for fourth in NL
The Giants have also benefited all three years from playing fairly mediocre World Series opponents as far as World Series teams go. This is one of the results of a playoff system that allows 10 (or eight teams before 2012) in as opposed to four or two: The best regular-season teams may be eliminated before the World Series due to the nature of short series, where upsets are common.
• The 2010 Rangers were 90-72, the fourth-best record in the AL. That team wasn't as strong as the 2011 Rangers that won 96 games and also reached the World Series. The 2010 Rangers had a plus-100 run differential while the 2011 team had a plus-178 margin.
• The 2012 Tigers had the seventh-best record in the AL. They made the playoffs only because they won a weak division.
• The 2014 Royals had the fourth-best record in the AL and outscored their opponents by just 27 runs.
The Giants had some luck along the way. Facing the Reds in the 2012 NL Division Series, Cincinnati ace Johnny Cueto got injured in the first inning of Game 1. The Reds ended up winning that game but had to scramble their rotation as Cueto was unable to start in Game 5. The Giants didn't have to face the 98-win Nationals in the NLCS that year after the 88-win Cardinals upset the Nats in the division series. The Giants did beat the Nationals in this year's division series but avoided the 94-win Dodgers after the 90-win Cardinals advanced -- a Cardinals team whose ace, Adam Wainwright, had elbow surgery after the series.
But, as Giants fans will readily point out, the Giants have overcome their own obstacles as well; you make your own luck.
If anything, the moral of the Giants' success story is a reminder that in this particular era, with so much parity and few great teams and the more wide-open structure of the postseason, the goal is just to get into the playoffs. At that point, what happens in the regular season is irrelevant. The Giants didn't win it all in 2011 or 2013 because they didn't make the playoffs.
Are the Giants a dynasty? As Pence said, it's just an opinion.
What isn't an opinion: three rings.